-- Jon Stewart doesn’t like coming to Capitol Hill.
But just months after walking the halls of Congress with ailing 9/11 first responders, the former “Daily Show” host returned to Washington to once again lobby lawmakers on re-upping funding for 9/11 first responder health programs.
Stewart, with a camera crew in tow, met with lawmakers and aides on reauthorizing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would refund a health program for first responders and a victims' compensation program for five years.
Several ailing 9/11 first responders spent the morning seeking meetings with Sens. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who have not endorsed the bill.
“We just can't figure out why we have to drag guys hundreds of time down to Washington who are suffering from cancer, to plead their case when our country should have taken care of them in the first place,” Stewart said in a brief meeting with Portman’s chief-of-staff.
“This is insanity,” he told reporters after the meeting. “They’re forgetting that there are real people involved with this.”
Stewart joined first responders in Washington after a tentative plan to pass the Zadroga Act fell through. Democrats claim Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) blocked the measure from being included in the long-term highway bill.
“We had an opportunity to pass the Zadroga Act this week, permanently,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), said at a rally Thursday with other New York-area members. “But there was no political will.”
A spokesman for the Kentucky senator disputed the accusations, and said McConnell is working toward passing the bill by the end of the year. McConnell also met with 9/11 first responders this morning to provide an update on negotiations.
Ray Pfeifer, a retired firefighter with stage four renal cancer, waited hours Wednesday for a meeting with McConnell.
“America was attacked, we were your Marines. Take care of your Marines,” said Pfeifer.
Pfeifer and other first responders lobbying Congress this week said they became sick after clearing the wreckage and debris at Ground Zero. Shortly after the attacks, the Environmental Protection Agency said the air around the site in lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.
Backers of the Zadroga Bill hope Congress will approve the measure as part of the omnibus spending bill Congress must pass by Dec. 11.